"Let a dropout buy you coffee"
The subject line that garnered me some wisdom from a lifelong builder.
Recently I had coffee with a stranger I’d reached out to on the internet. I do this somewhat often, but not as often as I used to before spooky COVID times.
When I was asking him questions about the things he was working on, and his experience navigating through life towards those objectives, I spotted a pattern that I wanted to share here. That pattern consisted of the evolving incentives that this person rotated through in 10 year intervals over his 30 years' life experience as an adult.
I’d come across this stranger from a web3 project I’ve been following. After snooping their background a bit more I discovered that he was the head of a lab at the school I’d dropped out of and that he also runs 2 successful companies in a highly regulated space.
My email subject line had basically written itself:
Let a dropout buy you coffee?
When we first sat down, my coffee companion told me about how he’d started his adult life with the goal of becoming a noble academic. This led him down the path to pursue solving the biggest problems that he was capable of fathoming in academia and at the same time, rowing competitively on one of the US's top teams.
Once he was passed up for the Olympics and realized that this dream was one he was running out of time to materialize while at the same time, building a life for himself, he decided that it was time for a change.
Once he made the conscious decision to make that change, he realized what he’d been chasing in all that time. It wasn’t scientific or athletic achievement for achievement’s sake. It was recognition.
He’d decided next to steer clear of the golden trophy and orient instead towards the gold bar.
It takes a decade or a lottery to build a solid foundation, and even then, the house built on top can still crumble. My coffee companion expressed a similar sentiment telling me about how after his multi-year stint in rowing post-grad school, he had no momentum to enter the workforce anywhere other than an entry level position in a basic laboratory. His prestigious degree had become all but worthless spare the knowledge that was the product of his own discipline.
That said, he did have discipline- which steered him well ahead of his peers to become the head of the lab he was working in, and eventually start his own. It still wasn't enough however to support his growing family of 3, soon to be four.
Fast forward a few more years and a boat full—pun intended—of desire for financial freedom, my coffee companion wove a tale for another day to becoming the head of 2 companies in the pharmaceutical industry, enabling him to have finally achieved his goal of financial independence.
Finally in our conversation, my coffee companion got to the story of why he's orienting his time away from all the above endeavors to focus on something new and something pure.
I had reached out to this person for coffee because when I caught him online speaking on about the project that he’s working on now, I was captured not only by the subject matter but also his passion in how he’d described the work.
When I prodded for the origin of that passion, I was answered in reply that it originated from the fact that he was finally doing the work that he felt he was meant too.
The work as I would define it- is the progression towards achieving the thing that provides you, the most intrinsic satisfaction, and the world, the most extrinsic value. Importantly, it does these things separate from the influence of the aforementioned prestige and money. Work for work's sake. Work for value's sake. Work for your sake, and no body else's.
The wisdom my coffee companion wanted me to leave with was to skip the first, reach the minimum viable version of second and coast off into the sunset on the third. I leave you this Saturday with the same wisdom.
Keep up the good work.